The following letters were originally posted to my advice Forum. I've archived some of them here, as I thought they might still be relevant/useful to you. More specific topics can be found here: Sex & Love Forum -Borderline Personality Forum - Therapy Mishaps Forum - Narcissistic Personality Forum - Health Matters Forum. You may locate them later under Articles.
Q. Shari, is abandonment worse on kids, than living with parents who aren't getting along?
A. Leaving a marriage does not mean "abandoning" your children. Any child who grows up with constant tension and fighting between his parents, must survive living in a war zone! This is grossly unfair to a child--but it's only the tip of this iceberg. Children learn from example; mean-spirited/disrespectful interplay between spouses becomes a child's definition for what 'marriage' means. As an adult, he or she will unwittingly choose partners with whom to replicate this familiar drama, or may never marry at all. Seeing loving, caring interactions between grown-ups is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child, as he/she will be looking forward to these pleasurable experiences in adulthood--and have a sense of how to create them! This dynamic may be achievable within a marriage, or it may not--but staying for the "children's sake," is often more about the parents' needs, than about the kids.
Q. This is very difficult to express. My father has always said that he loves his children "equally"--but it's never felt that way. He and my brother spend more time together, and seem to have a connection that I've never shared with my dad. I guess I've come to terms with this over the years, but it's always been troubling to me. My wife and I are expecting our second child in a few months, and I don't ever want any kid of mine to experience these feelings. Naturally, this issue is extremely heightened for me right now, and I'm concerned about it. Is it possible to love all your children the same?
A. Whew! Thank you for bringing this important topic to light, as it's seldom (if ever) discussed. You might love all your children "equally," but not the same. Parents always want to believe they have identical levels of love for each of their kids--and in an abstract sense, they might! But is it possible to love them all the same? It's very doubtful, and here's why: We gravitate to people with whom we feel a compatible resonance or vibration. Essentially, the child who is more like us, is the child with whom we're likely to forge a stronger bond. This child usually reflects/mirrors what we consider to be our more desirable attributes, and another may echo facets of ourselves that we've disowned, or may prefer weren't a part of our nature! Contact with this child might be less frequent, and the connection often feels strained or superficial to both parties (therapeutic support can help you narrow this chasm with your dad). The issue of emotional resonance or attunement also shows up in our everyday adult life; many of us have (thankfully) managed to form closer/deeper attachments with friends than we have with our siblings. The most loving thing you can gift your child/children, is to try and embrace the fact that they are different from you in various ways, and you will love each of them differently. Our offspring aren't supposed to be carbon copies/clones of us (which challenges our narcissism); if they were, we wouldn't learn more about accepting/loving ourselves or them.
Q. I have a book idea, and have written a couple of chapters. Over the past several years, a few agents have been very encouraging, and submitted my proposal to some publishing houses--but (so far) nobody's offered me an advance on this project. I've almost given up hope of being published. What do you recommend I do? "Discouraged"
A. Dear Discouraged, unknown authors are seldom (if ever) offered advances, as they have no track record. Expecting a publisher to buy a book that hasn't been written, is like betting money on a racehorse that nobody's seen run! Putting it another way (and pardon my chauvinism); would you give a pricey engagement ring to a woman who makes explicit sexual promises, but won't go to bed with you? Writers write. Creative passion springs from the body's second chakra where reproduction and sexuality are housed, and it's virtually irrepressible! The outcome isn't as nourishing/satisfying as the expression of this energy, which feeds your spirit. It sounds as if you don't really want to write this book, or it might have been completed by now. Are you looking for motivation to commit the time and dedication it takes to actually do it? An old friend, Peter McWilliams self-published all his books, after encountering similar frustrations. Consider selling your book online--or determine if your idea can be turned into a magazine article or short story, and submit it to publications you think will want to buy it. This can provide more immediate gratification,and enhance your credibility. For my money, you've been putting the cart before the horse. Keep writing (you'll gain a whole lot in the process), and then sell your finished product!
Q. What the hell makes people just disappear? A close friend of mine got involved with a woman about a year ago, and it's like he's dropped off the planet! We don't talk anymore unless I call--and even then, it seems our connection isn't the same. This really sucks!!!
A. This issue is extremely common, and I'm sorry you've been hurt by it! A lot of people relate very differently to their friendships, once a romance takes off. In essence, they become tunnel-visioned, as each (new) love interest takes center stage. Problem is, if/when something happens to that relationship and they think of reconnecting with you, they may find they've lost a good friend. What's typically behind this 'disappearance' phenomenon is a level of arrested development, which can thwart their ability to hold more than one meaningful connection at a time. Young females are especially prone to being with one "best friend" (intensely) for a period, and then finding another who takes her place. This is very normal during pre-adolescence, when we're experimenting with romantic feelings within our (same sex) attachments, but we're supposed to integrate the emotional skills gained during this phase of our development, and outgrow it! Attachment difficulties (in infancy/early childhood) may spawn enmeshment issues, which can derail healthy growth and impact all our adult relationships. Hate to say it, but try finding new friends who value you, and are capable of maintaining their relationships!
Q. Dear Shari, great article on kids and potential personality disorders in parents; I think my relationship with my son is stronger than the one he has with his mother. Of course, I've got this nurturing thing. My mother died when I was 14 and my father continued raising me and my brother, who was 9 at the time. I learned a lot from that experience, but sometimes it gets a bit troubling, in that I have difficulty saying "no" to things (my son wants).
A. In the aftermath of divorce, competition between parents for the children's affection is almost inevitable. A child usually senses this, and may use it to manipulate them into catering to his whims; this alone, could cause some of your difficulty. But in light of your childhood experiences, there may be more significant reasons you struggle with this issue. Losing your mother as you entered manhood, could have had intricate emotional ramifications, and left you with abandonment concerns. Within this context, the prospect of "saying no" to your son might activate a subtle anxiety that's not consciously held, but may influence your behavior within relationships that are important to you. Children learn to 'self-regulate' their impulsive urges, when adults set boundaries and limits for them; they depend on us to provide this structure, because they're incapable of doing it for themselves (prior to healthy adult development). A child who feels solid/secure in his emotional bond with his parent, can withstand external frustrations (not having all his wants attended to). The danger in not learning to do this for your boy, is that it may spawn a narcissistic personality, because it promotes a skewed sense of entitlement, and the 'currency of Love' is converted to something other than, authentic feelings of attachment. My analogy for females who have difficulty separating their own needs from their children's, might also be helpful to you: When the 'mother ship' is sound, her passengers can reach their destination intact.
Q. Hi Shari, it never fails that I get depressed around the holidays. I'm usually alone--but it seems no matter what I do, this heaviness comes over me each year, and I don't begin to recover until January's underway. Frankly, it's getting old. Can you recommend anything that will shift this around?
A. Holidays are painful for many adults, not because we're missing remembered pleasurable times with our families, but because we've never really had these to begin with. When we perceive that virtually everyone elseis celebrating and spending time with loved ones, it triggers feelings of shame, isolation and mourning for emotionally rich/nourishing experiences we missed out on as kids. Some people find relief by giving to those less fortunate, like serving meals at a mission or shelter, or visiting terminally sick children in a hospital. Other's have done some inner healing (talk therapy) to dismantle these automatic (depressive) reflexes, and like to plan enjoyable activities for themselves; visiting museums, going to movies, finding new or special places to hike, etc. Whatever method(s) you choose, it's important to remember that what's driving these holiday blues, began a long time ago. While there's not much you can do about that, you can definitely start creating some happier traditions of your own.
Q. Dear Shari, confrontation makes me extremely uncomfortable. Whether I need to ask for something at work or express myself in relationships, I avoid it any way I can. This difficulty has caused me to leave jobs (prematurely) or distance myself from valued friendships. I don't understand why this is so hard for me, but it's always been this way. I've considered assertiveness training, but I'm a little nervous about what's involved in that, and I'm not sure it'll even be helpful. I tend to keep my feelings bottled up, but I occasionally explode when something or someone pisses me off--and often, my reactions seem more intense than what the situation calls for. This makes me feel terrible (and guilty) afterward, as I hate hurting other people's feelings. I also worry that I'll be seen as some kind of 'monster' rather than the nice guy I basically am. Can you help with this, or point me in the right direction?
A. Confrontation is difficult for everyone, unless you've gained some tools (and insights) that help you relate to this issue differently. You eventually "explode," because significant feelings have been swept under the rug, the emotional cost to you is cumulative, and (at some point) you just can't ignore the tension this has built in you anymore! Think of it this way; if a volcano doesn't let off a little steam now and then, it's ultimately going to erupt with destructive force. Major earthquakes are another example of cumulative pressure. As a little boy you were likely made to feel that your feelings didn't matter, and it wasn't safe (emotionally/physically) for you to express yourself or try to get your needs met. It appears you harshly judge your anger, but I think it's appropriate, given this kind of early conditioning. Suppression, or "the conscious intentional exclusion from consciousness of a thought or feeling" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) results in depression, anxiety/panic issues,passive-aggressive behavior and/or addictions; all of which undermine you and your relationships! My experience in helping people overcome these obstacles is extensive. Assertiveness training can be helpful, but the roots of this problem go considerably deeper, as they're connected to unresolved rage and entitlement issues (not feeling deserving/worthy).
Q. Dear Shari, I read your "Throwaway Dads" article with a real sense of sympathy and understanding. I have two daughters who are in the same position you were, and I'm doing everything in my power to protect them. Their mother has made all kinds of irrational charges, subjected them to serious emotional abuse (I will never forget the pain I've seen in my five year old daughter’s eyes) and deprived them of needed medical attention as a divorce ploy. I believe the children’s mother and maternal grandmother are mentally ill, but my motto is; “It stops at the third generation.” The purpose of this email is to inform you that in many places, the “fifties” still exist. I think they exist in most of the United States, but they certainly exist in the 380th District Court of Collin County, Texas. A woman who makes a false charge against her husband will always be given the children immediately. It is then up to the man to spend several hundreds of thousands of dollars to disprove these charges for six months. In the meantime, his kids are traumatized. Of course, few men have the resources to pursue this indefinitely and consequently, there is no telling how many children are condemned to a life of abuse (by their mothers). What's most disheartening, is my inescapable feeling that all judiciary parties know exactly what's going on, yet continue this pattern for political and profit motives. Thank you for a wonderful service.
A. You're welcome, and thank you for sharing your story, as I'm sure many fathers will (sadly) be able to relate. Ironically, it's children who suffer most from our archaic divorce laws, which are (supposedly) designed to "protect" them. You have my sincerest wishes for a successful outcome!
Q. My dog of 12 years has died, and I'm so sad I can barely stand it. I'm crying a lot of the time and am having trouble eating, sleeping and functioning at work. She's been gone for about three weeks and I know I should be past some of this by now, but I just don't know how I'm gonna get through it. My brother thinks I need to get a girlfriend, friends keep urging me to get a puppy, but I don't think I can handle either right now. SN
A. Dear SN, the loss of a loving, loyal companion after many years can be devastating, and feel akin to losing a life partner. An emotional bond is significant, whether it be to a human or an animal, and many people attach to their pets in ways they've never been able to attach to another person (animals love us unconditionally, and are often more trustworthy). Sounds like your friends are well-meaning, but cannot relate to the depth of this loss. It appears you're suffering from acute, clinical depression. This kind of event can trigger feelings that overtake us, making sensations of sadness seem insurmountable. Memories of other losses may surface during times like this, which can make recovering from your present pain even more difficult. It can be extremely helpful to talk with a professional who's able to support you through this grieving process, and a temporary course of antidepressant therapy can help you feel more functional during this time. Go easy on yourself. Grieving takes as long as it takes, and there's no "appropriate" time limit on it.
Q. Thank you for writing about Bipolar Disorder, as it has been very helpful to me! My 22 year old daughter was diagnosed with this bipolar illness and the doctor has decided to start her on Depakote. I would like to know more about the natural way of healing--could you send me any additional information on this? Do you know if this should be used along with this drug she has started? I wonder why he did not suggest the other options (with less side effects) you listed. Any advice you could give would be very helpful.
A. Glad you found this piece helpful. Doctors can have a limited repertoire of knowledge/experience with mood stabilizers, and (unfortunately) tend to keep prescribing the one(s) they're familiar with--sometimes, to the detriment of their patients. Depakote is frequently prescribed for Bipolar II symptomology (primarily depressive episodes) but is one of the medications that may produce unfavorable side effects; weight gain, lethargy, liver function impairment, etc. See how your daughter responds to taking this drug for several days. If she feels considerably better without any side effects, she can remain on it longer. Bipolar II generally responds best when antidepressant therapy is prescribed in conjunction with a mood stabilizer. If your daughter has trouble tolerating Depakote, have her explore other options (mentioned in my article) with her physician. It might also be very helpful for you both to read my article about antidepressants. Natural resources that may be helpful are already detailed in the bipolar piece, and I'm still researching this domain. Combining both should not be harmful, and may allow for an eventual decrease in pharmaceutical intervention.
Q. Hello, I wanted to get some tips on mood swings. I have them, and sometimes I feel normal or happy, and sometimes I feel very suicidal. So the doctors prescribed me Lithobid (Lithium). Also, I suffer from severe depression since I attempted suicide. It's thought that I have schizophrenia, but I believe they misdiagnosed me. So please help me!! I'm taking schizophrenia medications that I think I shouldn't be taking.
A. Your symptoms sound consistent with a Bipolar II type mood disorder. Depressive episodes are sometimes attended by "voices" which feel cruel or disparaging, and/or urge you to harm yourself. This can be interpreted by doctors as schizophrenic symptomology, and in some instances this diagnosis is appropriate--but sometimes, it isn't. With Bipolar II, hearing voices can be a fairly reliable marker/warning for when you begin to spiral into a depressive episode. Adjusting/slightly increasing your mood stabilizer and antidepressant for a day or so in response to this, may avert an acute depressive cycle; but check with your doctor on this! Since you "suffer from severe depression" and you've not mentioned taking an antidepressant in conjunction with your mood stabilizer (Lithium), I'm a bit surprised by your current drug regimen. Anti-psychotic medications (for schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders) can slow you down, make you drowsy and inhibit impetus or motivation, which is why people have a hard time staying on them. Read about Bipolar Disorder for more info pertaining to your symptoms, and various drugs used to alleviate them. Speak with your prescribing physician about your feelings about his "Schizophrenia" diagnosis, and ask him/her about antidepressant therapy. If you're physician is not responsive to your concerns, find a doctor who is! It's possible you may derive more benefit from a different (milder) mood stabilizer taken more than once a day. Lithium is generally prescribed when most other stabilizers have failed to impact bipolar symptomology. Accurate diagnosis and careful/consistent drug monitoring are essential in helping you manage your symptoms, and feel better! Along with balancing neurochemistry, therapeutic support that addresses early trauma (core issues) is very helpful in dismantling your depression.
Q. Hi Shari, my cousin sent me a newspaper article about the threat of diminishing my child's "creativity" in reference to treating his ADHD with stimulant medication. Could this material possibly be true? What do YOU think? "Concerned"
A. Dear Concerned, I disagree with this theory, and think it's absurd! Beyond allowing for the possibility that a child might be over-medicated or prescribed the wrong drug for his system, I can't imagine creativity being "stifled" by the use of stimulant therapy. In my opinion (personally and professionally) the opposite is true, and there's tremendous enhancement to be gained. Look at it this way; if your child has exceptional creative talent, but he's incapable of harnessing the impetus and focus he needs to express and demonstrate this gift with any degree of predictability or consistency, how can it benefit him? Perhaps my ADD article will help to alleviate some of your concerns. I'm also including the following letter, which was graciously sent from a visitor to my site:
>>Dear Shari: Discovered your website, and clicking on "Articles" I read your piece; INSIDE ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER (No, you're not stupid, lazy or crazy!). I've heard of ADD and halfheartedly tried to apply the malady to me. I concluded that it was just another label for a form of aberrant behavior and gave it little attention. Then recently, 60 Minutes did a segment which caught my attention, and afterwards I clicked on the Strattera website. It seemed that anyone could meet the 4 out of 7 symptoms, so I concluded this was just another way to sell drugs. However, after reading your discussion on this topic, I actually sat down and wrote about 4 pages chronicling my life as it pertains to that criteria, from my head trauma as child, to the need to follow especially adventurous assignments. I've learned to cope by following an exercise and diet regimen--but have always been troubled to some degree by my inability to maintain focus after the challenging part of a project has been solved. Your discussion could have been directed to me personally, and was "spot on" to my behavior patterns. Thank you for that insightful coverage, I may now even seek relief. I have no problem with you using my note for any purpose that could benefit your dissemination of this information. Frankly, you should contact the makers of Strattera and suggest the use of your experience and knowledge to explain this condition in a manner that actually enlightens those who suspect they may have it. The information I read on their site did not suggest that this issue was indeed a real medical condition. It is amazing where you find information that can have the biggest impact on your life. Again, thank you! Michael<<